I promised an article on the pro-Kremlin faction of the oligarchs, but that will have to wait until we get a final head count of who fled and who stayed in Russia. Friends today, enemies tomorrow — such is life in… well just about anywhere nowadays. Instead, we should probably say a few words about corruption, the security services and the way business is done in Russia to set the stage better for when we get into the nitty-gritty of it all soon.
Corruption is a buzzword in Eastern Europe in a way that it simply is not in the West. This is because in the West, corruption is legal and understood to be part and parcel of the Liberal Democratic process, whereas in the East, people still have the capacity to feel outrage at it. But in Washington, professional corrupters occupy seats in offices of prestigious lobbying organizations on K Street and no one denounces them. As we all know, these professionals help foreign interests, big business and ethnic grievance groups grease the wheels of political bureaucracy with nothing more than innocent handshakes, playful winks and well thought-out suggestions. In other countries this would be called corruption, but because America is a Human Rights Freedom-Loving Liberal Democracy we know a priori that corruption simply cannot exist because that’s not our values — that’s simply not who we are.
But take Nancy Pelosi and her son, who allegedly supports youth soccer programs in Ukraine. They’ve managed to extract staggering sums of loot from the poorest country in Europe. Then take Joe Biden and his son, who allegedly invest in shale gas extraction in Ukraine and, according to the recently revealed laptop emails, were involved in biolabs pathogen research. They’ve also made a tidy profit. This is, of course, considered normal and no one so much as shrugs in Washington or in the controlled media. One doesn’t even have to look abroad to American politicians fleecing failed states to see what Liberal Democracy is really about. Again, Joe Biden, for example, has had a long and storied career as an insurance industry representative. His home state of Delaware has had many companies come in to take advantage of tax loopholes and the like, and Joe Biden has gone to Congress for decades to push for legislation that is agreeable to their continued profits.
Again, this is normal. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. This is how the system works.
“Corruption!” The proles cried.
“Simply the cost of doing business!” The oligarchs replied.
Fundamentally, Liberal Democracy is based on the premise of giving the merchant/business class control over the political process. People with money at some point wanted to convert their currency into political power, which they were barred from accessing by the existing system of hereditary titles and a “services-rendered” based reward system run by the monarch. To give their money a voice, they had to change the political structure of their host countries to make them more amicable to the interests of their business caste, which led to the modern system of Liberal Democracy as we know it coming into its own.
But the proletariat of Eastern Europe didn’t understand this — they were willing to give Liberal Democracy a shot. They were then taken aback and morally outraged when they saw the whole country come to be dominated by oligarchic business interests. No doubt they should have read the fine print before signing on the dotted line as it were. Back in the Soviet Union, a party elite that adhered to the correct political ideology ran the country. Ambitious youth joined the Communist party and rose through the ranks by writing theses on Marxism-Leninism and then running some office or another until they got noticed and pulled up to the next rank by a party official. It was a system that people grew to hate at first, but then ended up becoming nostalgic for. At least the average prole more-or-less understood how the system worked and how to advance in it. You could figure out who to talk to to get something done and some problem solved. This new system, however, turned out to be even more opaque and labyrinthine than the one that came before it.
In general, if we compare Capitalism with, say, Communism, then we see a striking difference emerge. In one system, a group of powerful businessmen collude with one another to ban criticism of themselves and set up a system of private monopolies to fleece the people. In contrast, with Communism, we see a group of powerful party elites who conspire with one another to ban criticism of themselves and set up a system of state monopolies to fleece the people. The difference couldn’t be more stark. All this is to say that Oligarchy can take on many forms. You can have a political oligarchy that then takes on elements of an economic oligarchism. Or you can have an economic oligarchy that then ends up taking political power. Point being: the ruling caste of the USSR and the USSA have far more in common with one another than they would ever admit to their own captive populations.
The “Russian” form of corruption, however, is far worse than the one practiced in the West because the stolen money is then taken out of the country. In contrast, if we take Carnegie and Rockefeller, who were robber barons and oligarchs in their time as well, we can at least say they built some nice libraries and funded other public works within America with their stolen money. This is an important distinction and I would never forgive myself for not using this opportunity to push a rather esoteric political position promoted by the infamous modern occult philosopher Aleksander Dugin who stressed the need for the Russian government to promote “patriotic corruption” like the kind practiced in the West. A word on Dugin: he has never enjoyed the same levels of popularity in Russia as he has in the West, where he was seen as a kind of éminence grise of Russian politics, whereas his ideas were more often ridiculed in Russia than not. Personally, I maintain that the man had many good points to make that he was simply too “based” and realpolitik for correct-thinking people to even entertain his ideas. Most modern thinkers seem to be unable to throw off utopian castle-in-the-sky type thinking and simply make do with reality as it is and not insist on it conforming to their vision of how it should be.
Anyway, let’s get into our final point of discussion for today — the rentier siloviks.
In the Soviet Union, when the Bolsheviks first came to power, they did not practice Socialism or Communism as we understand it today. The first years saw the formation of the NEP program under which gangs of Jews appropriated private and state businesses and cannibalized huge swaths of Russian capital and assets while also positioning themselves as monopolists in the new “free market” economy. It was only under Stalin that the whole Communism thing started in earnest. What this Communism amounted to was Stalin killing off these private monopolists and putting his own people from the security organizations in charge of them. By this method, the NKVD came into ownership of property, land and other valuable assets. Many families living in the desirable downtowns of big cities like St. Petersburg and Moscow are descendants of one NKDV family or the other to this day. Unlike his predecessors, Stalin actually invested the appropriated resources back into the Soviet economy and began building his vision of Communism in earnest. Again, all it really amounted to was the private cartel from the NEP period being replaced by NKVD agents and a clamp down on capital flight from the USSR. But just by clamping down on capital flight and forcing the resources to stay in the country, Stalin was, indeed, able to turn the Soviet ship around. Moscow is largely a city built by Stalin. The towering “Stalinkas” that ring the capital are the most impressive and enduring monuments to Soviet architecture. Everything that came before and since Stalin has been the regular cost-saving brutalist concrete slurry that we have on display everywhere in the world, whether the country be Communist or Capitalist.
Now, the NKDV structure morphed into the KGB and then the FSB, which continued the legacy of security people maintaining a grip on state resources and directing them as they saw fit while also extracting a profit for themselves. This is still a reality in Russia today, although their grip on economic power weakened because of the 90s and the rise of a competing mafia — the private oligarchs. Entrepreneurs who want to start making money eventually have to do business with one mafia or the other. In modern Russia, they can approach the private oligarchs, the FSB or the official state — all approaches which have their advantages and drawbacks and which have to be weighed carefully.
In the West, in contrast, the state is the main mafia one has to deal with, and the government extracts its rents through fees, inspections, compliance codes, taxes and so on, not to mention the mountains of paperwork and time that have to be sunk in as well. Russia certainly has this system in place as well, but the official state’s monopoly on rent collection is not totally like in the West. By choosing to do businesses with the FSB, the strapping entrepreneur can bypass the bureaucracy and even save money in the short term. They simply pay their “Krisha” protection money to the FSB boss in charge of their street or section of the city or building and then they can set up their business tomorrow if they wish, no red tape involved. It seems like a good deal and most businessmen in the West would probably jump at the opportunity to pay a fee upfront and not have to deal with waiting, say 2 years, to get a state-issued liquor license.
However, all is not as it seems at first glance and the FSB boss might start considering a hostile takeover of the business on his territory if it starts becoming too profitable. Businessmen in Russia constantly complain about being muscled out of their projects and forced to sell to the people who are providing them with protection. And because they paid a bribe to avoid having to deal with state bureaucracy, their business dealings aren’t exactly clean. Most do a mental calculation and decide to cash out instead of fighting in the courts and possibly losing everything and getting a prison term to boot. Politics, then, becomes a necessary part of doing business for any striving oligarch-to-be because they need allies in power to protect their assets from lawfare waged by hostile, already established oligarchs, predatory FSB chiefs, and an impersonal, merciless bureaucracy that will grind them up in its gears before spitting them out to be torn to bits by scavengers.
There it is — an overview of the exquisitely, metaphysically evil nature of business and corruption in Russia.
But, having explained the Russian corruption system in general terms, I can only shrug and point out that despite all of this, or perhaps because of all of this, the ease of starting a business remains much easier in Russia than anywhere in the West. I also don’t think that Russia is all-in-all any more “corrupt” than the West either — in fact, I would say that it is less so. Consider: big companies in the West push for regulation that forces their smaller competitors out of business and allows them to set up monopolies. Is this not “corruption” by legal means?
Or consider what happens when a general retires and begins making millions of dollars working for a private weapons contractor bidding on government contracts that they are guaranteed to win because of money spent bribing politicians who are, in turn, themselves simply the puppets of business interests that got them elected in the first place. Is this not a form of corruption?
Does legalizing graft and sanctimoniously denouncing others change anything? Does creating a system of corruption that is more elegant make that system any less corrupt? What is the end result? What is the end goal? What are we crusading against and what are we trying to build? Who gets to decide the meanings of the terms we use? And the most important question: why do the peasants allow themselves to be politicized into caring about who is stealing from whom halfway around the world from where they live?
I contend, unlike the utopians, that corruption in one form or another will always exist in society regardless of whatever political ideology is adopted and promulgated as the state religion. Fundamentally, the state can monopolize and legalize corruption, like in the West, or you can have older, more archaic forms continue to flourish like in the East. Furthermore, an anonymous internet peasant like myself can afford to be a moral crusader, but no serious statesmen can, which means that Russia will remain a “corrupt” country for the foreseeable future. What is far more important to consider is the question is what form of corruption will come out on top as a result of the sanctions and the turn to autarky that we are witnessing occurring now in real time. A system of “patriotic corruption” where state assets stay within the country and are reinvested in the economy will be far better than what came before it. Furthermore, it is quite clear that state assets are better off in the hands of state spooks than in the hands of an international clique of rootless cosmopolitans. Finally, there should indeed be a legal and open path for honest businessmen to be able to take — but leaving a potentially risky off-road shortcut option open isn’t exactly a civilization-ending situation either.
Keep all of this in mind when we start talking about the pro-Kremlin oligarchs and the Chinese-style fusion of big business and government system that Russia is moving towards adopting in the near future.